Bird-inspired eVTOL could be the real deal
Although we've heard about a number of proposed passenger-carrying eVTOL (electric vertical take off and landing) aircraft, many are still in the conceptual stage. Such is not the case with the Alia, though, which we're told is making daily test flights.
Being developed by Vermont-based Beta Technologies, the Alia incorporates lessons that the aerospace company learned with its previous smaller eVTOL prototype, the Ava.
The Alia's sleek form was inspired by the aerodynamic body of a bird – specifically the Arctic tern. Quite unlike that animal, however, it utilizes four horizontally oriented propellers to take off and land like a helicopter, switching over to a rear vertical pusher prop for faster, more efficient fixed-wing flight while cruising.
Plans call for the final commercial product – which may be released under a different name – to be entirely battery-powered, with a range of 250 miles (402 km) per charge, a 50-ft (15.2-m) wingspan, a maximum take-off weight of 6,000 lb (2,722 kg), seating for six passengers, and a 200 cubic-foot (5.7 cubic-meter) cargo capacity.
The current functional prototype was built in 2019, having received its airworthiness certificate this year. Team member Kyle Clark tells us that it's "flying daily."
In fact, development of the Alia was first commissioned by biotech firm United Therapeutics, as a zero-emissions means of delivering organs for transplant. The US Air Force has since commissioned prototypes for its Agility Prime program, which is aimed at boosting the commercial development of air mobility vehicles.
Beta additionally plans to establish a network of rapid-charging stations for the aircraft. Built from shipping containers, these facilities would include arrays of solar panels, grid-connected inverters, energy-storage modules and generators for off-grid charging during peak hours or power outages, plus lounges and sleeping quarters for pilots to use between the legs of their journeys.